Accidentally ruin a favorite sweater in the wash? You might not be totally out of luck. Shrunken wool sweaters can sometimes be restored through a method called "blocking" in which the wet wool is stretched back to size and allowed to air dry. Here's how I recently restored a Italian-made, vintage wool sweater that my daughter found at a local thrift store.
Soak. When wool is washed in warm water, the fibers shrink and knot up on themselves. Relaxing those fibers starts by soaking the sweater in the bathroom sink. Use slightly warmed water to which a couple of tablespoons of Borax has been added and gently swoosh the sweater around until the fibers loosen. Once the fibers start to unlock, drain the water and rinse the sweater with tepid water.
Blot dry. After the rinse, gently squeeze the water from the sweater using fingertips only. No wringing! When the bulk of the water has been squeezed from the sweater, roll it up in a beach towel to "blot" away excess water. For a heavy sweater, you may have to use two towels to blot.
Prep. Now that the fibers have relaxed, the sweater can be blocked back into shape. For this, you'll need a large surface area and a couple of towels for the sweater to lay on while it's drying. Since the sweater may take a while to dry, it's wise to select a location that's out of the way such as the top of a freezer or clothes dryer.
Block. Place the sweater flat on the towels, gently stretching the fibers with the palms of the hands. I usually start in the center and move outwards until the sweater resumes its original size and shape. The arms are then flattened and stretched out at a 90 degree angle away from the sides. Cuffs and collar (including crew neck) should be gently worked back into shape.
Dry. Let the sweater dry for 12-24 hours. If the weather is nice outside, set the sweater on a picnic table somewhere in the shade to speed along the drying process.
Once the sweater has dried, it should look like its old self again providing that the shrinking wasn't too severe. If the sweater still doesn't look right, repeat these instructions and block again.
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